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Spanish Primera BBVA: A half-term report

Wednesday 5th February 2014
Tom Reade takes a look at La Liga and delivers his half-report card on the Spanish Primera.

Back in August, the majority of world football expected business as usual from La Liga: the annual two-horse race for the title contested by Real Madrid and Barcelona flanked by pretenders exhibiting flair, technique and tactical competence that are so often overlooked by those who still cling on to the old adage of the Premier League being the best of its kind. However in hindsight, significant upheaval in the ranks of the Bernabeu and Camp Nou triggered by respective failures in last season's Champions League knockout phase and embodied by managerial departures should have casted doubts as to whether this dual dominance could be repeated for yet another season. For neutral admirers of the Spanish game, this possibility has thankfully become real, and enriched the 2013/14 story so far. Here are the three leading surprise packages  who have been instrumental in revitalising the division as a whole:

Uno: Atletico de Madrid

Diego 'Cholo' Simeone's troops sit three points clear at the top of the table as a reward for the team's astounding work ethic, clinical finishing and resolute defence. Diego Costa leads the goalscoring charts having added composure and assurance in front of goal to his renowned barnstorming target-man play, supported by David Villa who is enjoying playing regular football once again after finishing last season as a Camp Nou outcast. Summer signing Joshua Guilavogui's central midfield prowess has also contributed to 'los rojiblanco''s securing a lead over the chasing pack, though Simeone will hope that the young Frenchman's focus will not be deterred by growing interest from prospective suitors across the continent. In front of the Thibaut Courtois, the accomplished Belgian 'keeper ready and waiting to succeed Petr Cech at Stamford Bridge, Brazilian centre back Miranda has thwarted opposition attacks with admirable guile and also proved to be a threat at attacking set pieces.

Dos: Villareal

After securing a return to the top flight with a 2nd place finish in last season's Liga Adelante, 'The Yellow Submarine' and its ardent fan base could have been forgiven for dreaming of the days of Forlan, Senna and Riquelme coming within a whisker of Champions League glory under the tutelage of Manuel Pellegrini.  However, you would have been laughed out of El Madrigal for even suggesting that their side would be three points away from a passport back to Europe's summit at this stage of the season.  With the assured rearguard conducted by Sergio Asenjo along with bundles of attacking creativity spearheaded by Giovani Dos Santos who is beginning to add consistency to the undoubted talent that made him such a coveted prospect at the Camp Nou in previous years, Villareal's remarkable resurgence looks set to continue and who knows, their dreams may come true in three months' time.

Tres: Athletic Bilbao

Last season, the majority of the side nurtured by Marcelo Bielsa which won so many admirers across Europe during the 2011/12 season looked shadows of their former selves. Perhaps it was the emotional wrench of leaving the old San Mames stadium - known as 'The Cathedral' in Spain -  or the incessant rumours surrounding star striker Fernando Llorente's future which upset the Basque side's rhythm last term. Regardless, their performance so far this season has done much to suggest that the move to a new home and the reinvestment in the squad generated from 'The Lion King''s departure to Juventus can spur the rest of the pride on to challenge for honours once more. As recently as this weekend, both quality and character was in abundance in clawing back the mighty Real Madrid to earn a 1-1 draw thanks to Ibai Gomez's torpedo-like volley which flew in off Diego Lopez's far post from all of 25 yards. This steely approach has been embodied by Athletic's midfield, bolstered by the industry of Mikel Rico and panache of Benat Etxebarria arriving from Granada and Real Betis respectively in the summer.

So here's hoping that this trio of willing runners stay the distance, which would guarantee a thrilling finale this season and add value to Spain's top-flight league: a key driver of sporting and economic prosperity, the latter of which has been absent from the Ibebrian peninsula whilst the two superpower footballing institutions have dominated on-field affairs both domestically and abroad. However, the 2013/14 season so far has done much to suggest that a new era is on the horizon.
Tom Reade
Tom Reade is a Liverpudlian and a keen follower of La Liga, particularly since having spent a 10-month period in Spain as part of his undergraduate degree studies in 2011. Despite his unwavering allegiance to the red half of Merseyside, Tom considers himself to be a student of the game and therefore assesses events both on and off the pitch with total impartiality both through his match reports and comment articles. Tom counts Yaya Touré, Sergio Ramos and Mats Hummels among his favourite players and still considers the 2001 FA Cup Final in Cardiff to be the greatest game he has attended, with Michael Owen single-handedly turning the game around in the dying minutes to keep Gerard Houllier's side on course for their historic quintet of cup titles over the course of the 2000/2001 season.

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